Schubert: String Quartets, Vol. 1 (CD review)

String Quartet in D, D94; String Quartet in A minor, D804 “Rosamunde”; Andante in C, D3.  Diogenes Quartet. Brilliant Classics 94315.

It’s Schubert. What’s not to like?

Yet, has any other composer in history written so much music in so short a time, most of which went unheard and unappreciated in the man’s lifetime? He wrote around a thousand works, mostly songs, some symphonies, liturgical pieces, operas, incidental music, and a large body of chamber and solo compositions. On the present disc, the Diogenes Quartet offer volume one in what promises to be a complete series of Schubert’s fifteen string quartets. Let us hope.

The Diogenes Quartet came together as a group in 1998 in Munich, Germany, and have been going strong ever since. They comprise Stefan Kirpal and Gundula Kirpal, violins; Julia Barthel, viola; and Stephen Ristau, cello. The group has been pleasing audiences not only with the classics but with new, modern music as well, and their crossover programs with a jazz quartet lead by former Diogenes founder Max Grosch have been major hits. The ensemble owes its name, by the way, not directly to the ancient Greek philosopher but to the Swiss Diogenes publishing company.

Anyway, Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828) probably wrote the early String Quartet in D, D94, with which the program begins, in 1811 or 1812, when he was in his early teens. Never mind the relatively high catalogue number, possibly a mistake. The work shows how much Schubert embraced the emerging Romanticism in music composition, as it is clearly well within the Romantic movement in spirit, complexity, themes, harmonies, and melody. Indeed, it is very typical of Schubert and points to the famous “Trout” Quintet to come. It bounces merrily along in the first movement, the Diogenes performers playing vigorously, robustly, yet with appropriate finesse. The main thing is that the players appear to be enjoying the music themselves, and their enthusiasm communicates to the listener.

The second-movement Andante con moto has a sweet lilt to it. The third-movement Minuetto swings cheerfully on its way, sounding the most “classical” of any of the movements in its design. Then, the concluding Presto closes the show in high style and good humor, again with the Diogenes performers in fine spirits.

The String Quartet in A minor, D804 “Rosamunde,” is the centerpiece of the album. It expresses an understandably greater maturity than D94, and at least in the beginning a darker, more melancholic mood. The D804 quartet was among the first of Schubert’s instrumental works performed publicly, and it’s the only one of his quartets published in his lifetime. It has a predominately gentle, lyrical quality to it, the music deriving its nickname from the composer’s incidental music (Entr’acte No. 3) for the play Rosamunde, which forms the basis of the quartet’s Andante. It’s also here that we notice most closely the similarities in the composer’s chamber pieces and his orchestral works. As always with Schubert, the whole thing abounds in beautiful, memorable melodies, which the Diogenes Quartet convey most pleasingly.

In between the two string quartets, the Diogenes players give us the little Andante in C, D3, a fragment Schubert left unfinished at his death. It makes a charming transition between the two longer works.

The Diogenes Quartet recorded the music in at the Himmelfahrskirch, Munchen-Sendling, Germany, in 2012. The sound is close enough to provide some good detailing yet not so close as to spread the four players clear across the soundstage. Still, a little more distance might have added a touch more resonance and air to the proceedings, which as they are tend toward the analytical side.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa